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Collection Resources​​​​

About SAM's Collection

The Seattle Art Museum collects and exhibits objects from across cultures, exploring the connections between past and present. Currently the collection consists of approximately 25,000 objects.

We are happy to provide additional rich information to help you better understand our collection better. Here, you will find material about SAM’s acquisition and deaccession process, provenance research and resources, and online publications.

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​Additional materials to help you understan​d the art at SAM and in your life can be found within Libraries & Resources.​

The growth of SAM’s permanent collections through acquisitions is an essential part of the museum’s activities and mission. The museum regularly acquires new works of art for our collections through gifts, purchases, and bequests. Upon the recommendation of SAM's Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO and curatorial staff, all acquisitions are rigorously reviewed and approved by the Committee on Collections and Board of Trustees. Every two years SAM celebrates new purchases and gifts to the collection and honors the many generous contributions from donors that make the continued growth of SAM's collection possible.

Acquisitions are determined by a number of criteria, including but not limited to: significance of the object; authenticity and provenance; relevance to SAM’s collecting strategy and existing holdings; condition; quality; exhibition and publication history; storage costs and long-term maintenance. SAM adheres to the Code of Ethics as outlined in the AAMD’s Professional Practices in Art Museums.


Many American museums are now making concentrated efforts to clarify gaps in the provenance (history of ownership) of works in their permanent collections. SAM has works with such gaps in various collecting areas, and research into the histories of these works is an ongoing process.

The list of works with unclear provenance is a work in progress. As provenance research is an integral part of the museum’s work, we continue investigating the histories of these objects, and we post new information as it comes to light. Art Loss Register searches have been completed for all recent acquisitions.

If you have any questions or information about the works of art in SAM’s collection, please feel free to email us.

Ancient Provenance

As a member museum of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), SAM adheres to the 2004 (updated 2008 and 2013) guidelines on the acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art. These guidelines use 1970 (the date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property) as the “threshold for a more rigorous analysis of provenance information” for acquisitions of ancient art and archaeological material. As part of these guidelines, SAM posts information about recent ancient or archaeological acquisitions without documented pre-1970 provenance on the AAMD Object Registry.

The list below includes works of art that were acquired by SAM since 2008, and have undocumented provenance prior to 1970.

View Ancient Provenance Works »

Nazi-era Provenance

Adolf Hitler’s rise to power from 1933 to the end of World War II corresponded with an unprecedented campaign to seize and control cultural property across Europe, including but not limited to works of art. From the years 1933 to 1945, a vast number of art objects were systematically confiscated or displaced through looting and forced sales. Although many works of art were returned to their original owners following World War II, many American museums unknowingly received confiscated works of art.

As a result, American and European museums are now making concentrated efforts to clarify gaps in their provenance records to enable the rightful owners or their descendants to identify—and reclaim—lost works from their collections. Declassification of documents and new databases have aided research and brought much new evidence and information to light. Still, because many records were lost or destroyed, gaps in provenance information are not unusual.

The Seattle Art Museum has a relatively small collection of European art, and research into the histories of these works is an important and ongoing process. The list below includes works of art that have gaps in their provenance, unclear dates of transfer between owners, or may have been in Europe during the Nazi era (1933–1945). Their presence on this list does not mean that we suspect that the Nazis were involved in their history. These are areas where we are conducting further research to clarify the history of ownership, and we will be posting new information as it comes to light.

View Nazi-era Provenance Works »

For more information on provenance standards and research in museums, please see:

AAM's Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era » ​​

Report of the Association of Art Museum Directors Task Force on the Looting of Art During the Nazi/World War II Era »

International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property »

Australian Tjuringa

The Seattle Art Museum has taken a leadership role in the return of art sacred to Australian Aboriginal communities. A sacred stone (tjuringa) that was purchased by museum founder Dr. Richard E. Fuller in 1971 (using donated funds) remained in museum storage for decades before being returned to Australia in 2009. Tjuringas are probably the most famous of Australian sacred material, each one being a deed to land and the representation of an individual's personal and family-group relationship with the Dreaming, the creative force of Australian Aboriginal religion and life.

Today, this type of stone is increasingly recognized as a secret sacred object, removed from Australian Aboriginal territories without the consent of the owners. By 1970, museums in Australia began taking tjuringas off public display and setting up restricted collections. Following a request for repatriation, the recommendation that the SAM tjuringa be sent to the National Museum of Australia was approved by the SAM Board of Trustees–Committee on Collections in consultation with Australian museum officials. Repatriation proceedings to a specific community are conducted by the National Museum of Australia.

Provenance Resources

UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws »
This database provides access to the national legislation of each state relating to the cultural heritage in general, contact details for the national authorities responsible for the protection of the cultural heritage, and links to official cultural heritage websites.

Provenance Research at the Getty »
The Getty website provides access to the Getty Provenance Index Databases. The databases contain almost 1,000,000 records that cover the late 16th to early 20th centuries. Also available are a collection of provenance research resources, with a special focus on Holocaust-era research.

International Foundation for Art Research Provenance Guide »
The IFAR provides educational resources and links for conducting provenance research. Also included on the IFAR website are a history of provenance research and its effect on World War II Holocaust-era looted art.

Interpol »
Interpol’s web page on stolen works of art provides information on artwork that has been reported stolen or looted. Interpol also provides details on the most recent stolen works reported and works of art that have been recovered.​

Art Loss Register »
Lost or stolen art can be reported to the Art Loss Register. Visitors who create an account have the opportunity to register their artworks in a pre-loss database. In case of a later loss or theft, they can request a search to see if their item has been recovered.

Cultural Property Advice »
Reports on provenance research for the period 1933–1945 by United Kingdom museums on the spoliation of works of art during World War II and the Holocaust. The artwork records are accessible through a searchable database.

National NAGPRA »
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a federal law passed in 1990 that provides a process for museums and federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items to lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations. This site provides access to legal information, FAQs, and databases which provide information on a variety of NAGPRA-related topics.

ERR Project »
The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) Project database provides access to the remaining registration cards and photographs produced by the ERR, covering more than 20,000 art objects taken from Jews in German-occupied France and, to a lesser extent, in Belgium.

International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property »
The International Research Portal is a collaboration of national and other archival institutions with records that pertain to Nazi-era cultural property. The portal links researchers to archival materials consisting of descriptions of records and, in many cases, digital images of the records that relate to cultural property that was stolen, looted, seized, forcibly sold, or otherwise. ​​​​​​

Lost Art Database »​
The Lost Art Database is run by the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg, Germany’s central office for the documentation of lost cultural property. It registers cultural objects which, as a result of persecution under the Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War, were relocated, moved or seized, especially from Jewish owners during World War II.


As part of continuous assessment of the collection, SAM may choose to remove an artwork from its collection through an official process called deaccessioning. An artwork might be deaccessioned if the work is poor in quality or poor in physical condition, if the museum holds a better example of the artist or genre, if the museum does not have appropriate context to display the work, if the work is to be repatriated or restored to a previous owner, or for other legitimate reasons.

SAM follows the guidelines established by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) when deaccessioning artworks. Funds produced from the sale of deaccessioned artworks are used only to acquire new artworks. SAM has published a list of previously deaccessioned artworks below, and this list will be updated regularly as changes to the collection are made.

View deaccessioned artworks

Online Publicat​ions

The following publications focus on the SAM collection and are available for d​ownload, free of charge. Additional collection and exhibition publications are available by contacting the SAM Shop.

You must have Adobe Reader installed on your computer to download many of the publications on this page.​

The Online Catalogue of Chinese Painting & Calligraphy

The Online Catalogue of Chinese Painting & Calligraphy

The Online Catalogue of Chinese Painting & Calligraphy makes SAM's collection of these splendid works of art accessible anywhere in the world. This innovative, user-friendly website is free for your viewing, research, and study. Major support for this project provided by the Getty Foundation as part of the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI).


  • Essays by renowned scholars​​

  • Community dialogue forums

  • High-quality images

  • Line-by-line tr​anscriptions

  • Searchable seals

  • Zoom and deep zoom

  • Browse by artist, dynasty, region

  • And more

View Catalogue »

​Guide To The WYCKOFF Porcelain Room

Porcelain Room

Unlike typical museum displays, SAM's new Porcelain Room features roughly 1,000 European and Asian pieces grouped from floor to ceiling by color and scheme. This​​​ presentation evokes a time when porcelain was a highly treasured art and valuable trade commodity. The guide is available for download using the link below, or for purchase in the SAM Shop.

View Porcelain Room Guide (PDF) »

Rich and Diverse Stories from Multiple Perspectives

Rich and Diverse Stories from Multiple Perspectives

In 2007, the museum’s curatorial team debuted new interpretations for 100 objects in the collection. The project, funded by the Getty Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), sought to bring diverse voices into the presentation of the collections, deepening visitors’ understanding of the works of art. Objects are considered from various points of view by art historians, artists, community members, writers, and scholars.

View Collection Objects »

The American Landscape's "Quieter Spirit": Early Paintings by Frederic Edwin Church

A Country Home

An exhibition of this title was on view at the Seattle Art Museum from June 25 to October 16, 2005. To learn about the museum's painting, A Country Home, and works related to it, download the publication for this exhibition.

View Church Exhibition Publication (PDF) »

Burning Issues: Value and Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art

Ancestral Modern

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection​, this symposium brought scholars and thinkers from around the world to Seattle. The wide-ranging discussions are captured in this transcript of the proceedings.

View the exhibition catalogue. Optimized for Desktop.

View the Symposium Transcript (PDF) »

Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke A Back

Long Steps

Visit the Art from Africa exhibition (2002) website, featuring 10 of the artists and scholars whose voices and experiences provided context for this interactive exhibition.

View Exhibition Site »

Poem Scroll with Deer

Deer Scroll

Explore the museum’s famous Deer Scroll on this interactive website, a virtual re-creation of the complete handscroll. Originally created in the early 17th century by two prominent Japanese artists, the handscroll was cut into smaller pieces in 1935. The Seattle Art Museum owns the largest of the remaining fragments.

Please note: This interactive experience only works with older Internet Explorer browsers that support Shockwave and not supported by Safari, Chrome, or Firefox. We are currently working on updating this resource to work on modern platforms. 

View Exhibition Site »

Papers from the Masterpieces of Japanese Painting Symposium 

Papers from the Masterpieces of Japanese Painting Symposium

This symposium, held on May 5, 2007, explored the conservation and restoration of the works of art in the exhibition Five Masterpieces of Asian Art.

View Screens from the 16th to 17th Century: Bamboo Grove of Spring and Autumn and Crows (PDF) »

View White Path between Two Rivers: An Excellent Buddhist Painting from the Thirteenth Century (PDF) »

View The Deer Scroll by Koetsu and Sotatsu Reappraised (PDF) »

A Northwest Summer: Six Exhibitions—One Celebration​

NW Summer Festival

This exhibition, drawn mostly from the SAM collection, was held at the Seattle Asian Art Museum from May 4 to October 15, 2006.

View Brochure (PDF) »

Discovering Buddhist Art—Seeking the Sublime

Buddhist Art

Do you know the difference between a demon and a bodhisattva? Find out by browsing Buddhist art in the SAM collection. Objects are organized by subject, country, and artistic medium. Please note that not all works of art are currently on view.

View Interactive Catalogue »​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Learn More

Read about our latest news, projects, and resources on the SAM Blog.

View Blog

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

Learn more about Equity at SAM